Sunday, October 30, 2016

Economics of Hope

This week I leave Kenya for Nigeria, where we will give a conference in Lagos on "Positioning the Nigerian Church for Global Millennium Realities," and then teach at the ECWA Seminary in Kaduna on Integrity and Finance.

But today I want to write about the economics of hope.  This is something my former colleague, Jeff Bloem, introduced to me, and it became more evident on our trip to Guatemala.  So I've been thinking and wondering about it of late.  When I wrote a few of weeks ago about our trip to Guatemala, I referred to the fact that there are many similarities between the poverty there and what I've seen in Africa, but also many differences.  One of the more startling differences seemed to be a lack of entrepreneurship.  In almost any African village you visit, you will see multiple small scale, hand-to-mouth businesses.  Almost every African you meet will have one, if not two or three, small scale businesses running, often in addition to a full-time job. Yet the villages that we walked into in Guatemala seemed to have almost none.  [Again, I only went to a few villages, the tours were quick, and so I may be generalizing too much.]  Assuming these differences are accurate - and we did consult with a number of Guatemalans who substantiated the observation - what is the reason for the difference?

We know that God made all people in His image, with His creativity, so it's not that people in Guatemala are simply less entrepreneurial.  All people find happiness when contributing to something greater than themselves, so it can't be that Guatemalans are not-hard working.  Guatemala is a rich country in terms of natural resources, so it's not that people don't have resources with which to work.  A very wide gap between the rich and poor exists in many nations, so that can't be the reason.  Hardships (civil war, hurricanes, earthquakes) have been plenty across Africa as well as Guatemala, so that can't be it.

Or can it?

Guatemala had a thirty-six year civil war.  That's a very long time of insecurity.  Unlike Africa, most rural people do not own land on which they can grow food.  They are more likely to be day laborers of large scale farms. Throw into that mix a very long history of conquerors, and natural disasters, and it seems to be a recipe for what we used to call a "lack of hope in the heart," which psychologists today call self-efficacy.

Jeff quotes a psychologist who said this:
A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
Remember to put the glass down.
Imagine holding that glass for 36 years and apply that to a person living in poverty in Guatemala.  [Then think of North America and those locked out of the social system whether they are Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, or Anglo-Americans through poverty that is not easily escaped.]  What hope do they see of being able to effect change?  What aspirations might they hold to believe that things can change with hard work and perseverance?

Often times we approach the challenge of poverty with external solutions - such as micro-credit, education, and other well-intended programs but we don't address the internal constraints that a lack of hope imbues. We forget that when we don't understand who we are in Christ - made ON PURPOSE and FOR A PURPOSE, we lack the hope to make positive changes.  A "hope intervention" was done in Mexico by economists who focused on micro-finance loans AND a Biblically-based curriculum that looked at bolstering aspirations, helping people recognize their own abilities, and their ability to see a path out of poverty.  The results of that study showed good results.

It's a BOTH/AND not an EITHER/OR.  Too many churches focus only on who we are in Christ without the practical tools of how to apply it.  Too many NGOs/non-profits focus on external solutions to poverty without addressing a lack of hope in the heart.

Most of us reading this have no idea what it is like to be without hope.  Not real, deep, on-going, all-encompassing despair for yourself and your children.  Most of us have networks and relationships that we can navigate - with a worse case scenario of having to swallow our pride to use those networks.

But imagine holding a glass half full of water for thirty-six years.

Let's be the Church that says, with Christ and some practical tools, you can try it one more time.
Please pray for the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders as we try to reinforce the message that we all have been created ON PURPOSE, FOR A PURPOSE, and supply some practical tools for how to multiple those talents.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Two Simple Words: "Receive Jesus"

Last Monday, I left for Kenya.  I arrived in Kitale on Wednesday morning, had ten minutes to "settle in" and then we took off for a long day of meetings in Kakamega, returning to Kitale twelve hours later.  Needless to say, I was exhausted.

Thankfully, Thursday was a national holiday in Kenya and so I had the day to rest, unpack, iron my clothes, do my grocery shopping, and some cooking to carry me through the next week of teaching and meetings.  I was to start teaching Business as Mission for the BA Theology class at Africa Theological Seminary on Friday.

Mid-morning, I left the seminary campus to get my groceries.  I flagged down a "boda-boda" (motorcycle taxi) and jumped on the back.  Despite having been on the road and in meetings yesterday seeing a great deal of Kenya, I took a deep breath of fresh air and sighed happily.  This is what I love when being back in Africa - having all my senses wake up with the sights and sounds of a society who lives so much outside:  people walking, talking, and laughing, cooking and cleaning, hustling here and there, cows, goats, sheep on the road, little shops everywhere.  The boda-boda zipped through town, dodging people, cars, animals, and other boda-bodas.  As we came close to the junction of the grocery store, there was heavy traffic and we were stopped for a few minutes.  Cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians were pressing in on all sides.  Instinctively, I tightened my arm against my chest to protect my purse from being grabbed.  Then a man, maybe in his 50s, thin and looking a little disheveled, crossed between the bike I was on and the car behind me.  He caught my eye as he came closer.  And as he passed, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Receive Jesus" and kept walking.

I smiled and relaxed.  My first thought was, "Thanks, but I have."  Traffic began to move again and as I felt the wind in my face, those words continued to wash over me again and again.  Such simple words.  No agenda behind them as we were in traffic.  He wasn't trying to present the four spiritual laws to me.  Simply a hand on my shoulder, "Receive Jesus" and moved on.

And it made me think all day.  Thoughts like... 
  • ...Why don't I ever say things like that?  I'd be afraid they are already Christian and I'd be insulting them.  I'd be afraid it would be seen as a platitude of a "muzungu" (white person) who wants to be the "missionary savior..."
  • ...Wishing that ministry could be that easy.  Two simple words.  Not the long challenge of empowerment and personal ownership, of transformation that takes a great amount of time... 
  • ...Where did he learn to come up with those two words and how long has he been saying them?  Rather provocative words, they immediately make one think.  They are an invitation, not a command. If all you have it two seconds with someone, those are two great words... 
  • ...Reflecting back to my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi, where I was sitting next to two men (one from Toronto and one from Sweden) who wanted to talk the whole way.  In the past I would have assumed that these men were coming for humanitarian reasons and probably were associated with a missions group (they both were with groups seated elsewhere on the plane).  It didn't take long to understand they were both going to Kenya for safaris and, given my recent blog on unreached people groups, it was pretty safe to think that they might not have "received Jesus."  When they asked me what I was doing in Kenya, I spoke with boldness but didn't say "Receive Jesus..."
  • ...Wondering if that man said that to all people, or when he caught my eye, whether he saw something in me specifically.  I wondered about his own life, his story, his own journey with Jesus...
You can see how my mind was going.  But what a delightful thing - two words and I'm left in a world of thoughts for the day.

Please continue to pray for the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Kenya as we seek to reach more people for Jesus, equip them to achieve the purpose for which God made them, and send them out to be a blessing to others, causing more people to "receive Jesus."

I leave you with a picture of me and DML Kenya Co-Director, Rev. Elly Kisala.  My dear husband, Michael, complained that it has been many, many months since I have put a picture of me on this blog, so here it is!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

This is NOT Normal "Locker Room Talk"

I didn't think I'd ever write about this.  Ever.  Ever ever.  My fingers tremble as I begin.

However the recent video released from Donald Trump in which he says "when you are a star, they let you do can do anything," and the on-going follow-up afterwards, is compelling me to speak up.  As I listened to Michelle Obama’s passionate speech about this subject, I heard her say the following, " would be dishonest and disingenuous of me to just move on to the next thing like this is all a bad dream...this is not something that we can just sweep under the rug as another disturbing footnote in a sad election season...It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen – something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day...if all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children?"  I realized that the violation that I felt during one period of my life also needs to come out as part of the landscape of what women deal with from generation to generation that is glossed over and passed over by countless others.  I realized that my story is one of thousands upon thousands, but it may be one that is helpful to share to remind us that this is very real, very disturbing, and very much part of our present. 

When I was nineteen years old, a sophomore at college, I was acquaintance-raped.  The guy was a senior, a captain of a sports team, and a guy I thought was really cool.  It was April and he was graduating from Calvin College in a few weeks.  He hadn't really paid any attention to me prior to this event but that night, out of the blue, he called me and asked if he could come over.  His girlfriend had just broken up with him, he was bummed out, and he wanted to talk.  He showed up at my door with a twelve pack of beer and proceeded to lament his situation.  And then he started to make some moves on me.  At first, I was flattered.  But then, not so much.

And then he went further and I told him "no" a number of times.  But he didn't stop.  I didn't scream.  I didn't hit.  I didn't punch.  I struggled.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt helpless.  He was popular.  He was a star (in my eyes). I didn't know how to stop it.  And then it was over.  The next day, he sent me an "I'm sorry" card, which I still have.  He knew what he did was wrong.  I never heard from him again.  He graduated a few weeks later and disappeared.

Life for me changed dramatically after that.  Up until that time, I had had a very active social life but it all stopped after that event.  I told no-one.  For two years, I dated no-one.  I stopped seeing friends.  My parents, who had called me their "sunshine girl" while I was growing up, didn't know what happened as their little girl was no longer smiling.    I focused on school and began working forty hours a week while going to school full-time, just to stay busy.  I made three appointments with my pastor over those two years, but cancelled each one as I could not bring myself to talk about it.  I was struggling with tremendous guilt and shame.  How could I complain about something when I didn't do everything to stop it?  I thought it would have been easier if I had been stranger-raped and attacked.  This was a very quiet, hidden crime.

I didn't tell anyone for two years.  Two very long, lonely years.  The first person I finally told was Bob, not as a counselor, but as my boyfriend at that time.  He, of course, helped me to process it and put the locus of responsibility off myself and onto this man.  Bob helped me heal and come back to be myself again.  My parents were so happy when Bob came into my life because they said they finally had their little girl back.  I started to smile again.

Why am I telling this now in this public forum?  Because of the words that Trump used as related to justifying sexual assault and then calling it locker room talk.  That was NOT locker room talk.  Locker room talk is crude; it is not about assault and breaking the law.  He was a 59 years old man (!!) who had been married for one month to his third wife when that incident was caught on tape.  He was not a pimply 19 year old trying to impress his buddies.  These comments show a scary side of a need in a grown man for power and control.  Saying that he can "do anything" to women, because of his position, was reminiscent to me of the man who raped me.  This guy knew that because of his sports position and being a senior that he had some power over me, a young enamored starry-eyed girl.  I imagine the women that Trump groped felt the same way as I did.

But I think it was even worse for them.  Their jobs were/are at stake.  This is a man who is has no hesitation to publicly lie and call names at any accusation. I completely understand why the women now accusing Trump of sexual assault didn't come forward for years and years.  It was 28 years ago for me and while I have no interest in knowing what the man who did this to me is doing now, I would feel compelled to speak up if he entered a public arena.  Without a doubt. 

I'm glad that the person interviewing him, Billy Bush, was suspended.  We apparently have lower standards for people running for president then for journalists.  It's appalling to me that Donald Trump might be the president of this country and that we, as a people, have let him get as far as he has.

As a victim of sexual assault, I'm outraged.

As a woman, I'm outraged.

And as a human being, I'm outraged.

This is not a political statement.  I have no interest in engaging politics in this blog.  But I do care about not having someone who flouts sexual assault as the commander-in chief of this country.

Enough is enough.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Surprising News About Unreached People Groups

I just returned from a mission conference in Seattle, with hundreds of people who are passionate for world-wide missions.  It is great to see the creativity of God's people in meeting needs, challenges and opportunities around the world in such creative ways!

As I was manning a table for most of my time for Discipling Marketplace Leaders, I didn't have a chance to hear a lot of the workshops or speakers, but there was one workshop that I was able to attend.  The speaker was J.D. Payne, an author and pastor from Birmingham Alabama, who talked about "Pressure Points" for the Global Church.  What was most intriguing for me was the research that he shared about unreached people groups.

A simple definition of an unreached people is a group that has a common affinity linguistically, culturally and socially, and where there are less than 2% evangelical Christians, or less than 5% adherents to Christianity.

What was most surprising is the list of the four countries with the most unreached people groups.  They are:  1.  India; 2.  China; 3. United States; and 4. Canada.

Surprising, isn't it?  The US and Canada are number 3 and 4.  All four countries are also rather large, but if we were to look at much of Europe, we would probably see a similar phenomenon as only 2.5% of Europeans are Evangelical Christians.  The face of missions is changing.  No longer does "missions" mean going overseas.  No longer does missions mean going to a foreign land or learning another language.  Doing missions now includes going into our cities, our communities, and learning who our neighbors are, right where we live.

The US, Canada, and Europe are considered Post-Christian Mission Fields.  It's an interesting concept to process.  Ironically, Seattle and Portland are the least religious cities in the US.  A city in Utah has only one church for every 18,500 citizens.  This takes an entirely new thought process to missions.

The Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19-20 says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  There is one main command in the Great Commission, which is to "make disciples."  Once you have made the disciples, you are to baptize and teach them.  And the word "go" is to be understood NOT as going to a foreign land, but more "as you are going about your business."  Too often we emphasize the word "Go" and not the words "make disciples."  All of us can be involved in making disciples every day of the week as we go about our work.

For me, this makes the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders all the more necessary in the United States.  We need to know "as we are going about our business" how to be the Church from Monday to Saturday.  It has continued to be somewhat baffling that we have yet to find traction with a US Church who understands the need for this for their members and embraces this ministry.  Business people understand the need for it and frequently tell us that it is necessary here - not just in developing countries.  A man overheard me describe this ministry at the conference to a pastor - he interrupted me with an apology and told me he worked at Boeing and has been searching for something like this for thirty years! 

The challenge is in front of us.  For the US and Canada, the nations and people groups of the world are coming in great numbers.  There are many opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission.  Are we ready?

Monday, October 3, 2016

What is your objective for your children?

Noah and his Hannah
A friend told me that it was time to give an update on my children, so here goes.  Noah seems to be settling well into his work in Washington DC as a background investigator for a federal contractor.  He is learning to negotiate Washington traffic and seems to enjoy the challenges in his work.  I'm happy because I think this position is a good fit for Noah and at the same time, he is contributing to keeping our country safe.  I'm also thankful for Facebook Messenger which allows me to keep in contact with him.  Hopefully we will get to see him at Christmas.

Hannah is living at home, working full-time, and recently started grad school at Western Michigan University in a specialty program for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.  Her passion is social work and many of our conversations center around that passion. Last week I had the opportunity to drive with Hannah to Lake City, MI to visit Bob's mom.  On the way back we had an interesting conversation that went something like this:
Hannah:  What I don't understand is what people's objectives
are for their children.  Is it only for them to be happy?  Or for them to also be well-adjusted, contributing members of society?

Renita:  Well-adjusted, contributing members of society would be great.  But, wait a minute, are you saying that your childhood wasn't happy?  (Pause)

Renita (cont'd):  It's not like we moved from the countryside into a high crime urban neighborhood with drug houses and prostitution on our street when you were four years old.....oh yeah...we did...(pause)
...It's not like we sent you to a failing closing public school for which your dad lost his job, and you and your brother were the only white children when you were eight years old....oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like we moved you to a war torn country where there was no running water or electricity when you were twelve years old...oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like you lost an important family member when you were sixteen years old....oh did...(pause)
...Well, ummmmm... at least I didn't sell you into the sex trade!
My Hannah, in Washington DC
My goodness, Hannah.  We gave you a tough challenging childhood! 
Hannah:  But that's the thing, Mom.  It was challenging to be sure, but you and Dad were always there for me (well, until Dad was not).  All decisions were made together through discussion.  And you processed everything with us.  Too many parents seek only their children's happiness and comfort, and fail to produce well-adjusted contributing members of society.  Part of the reason that my childhood was happy was because I learned very early on that you respected me and I learned to respect you.  Respect was a mutual expectation.  I was happy to hang out at home because I loved being with you guys.  I feel that the problem with many parents is that they come down too hard on the happiness or too hard on the discipline, but if you have mutual respect you don't have to come down hard on either side.   Don't get me wrong, I thought some of your rules were unfair growing up, but it was not because you didn't explain them to me but because I thought I was smarter than your rules.  Also, I know that even though we discussed the rules, the rules weren't up for discussion.  There was consistency and an intentional consciousness of everything we did. 
This was only a snapshot of a discussion that we had for quite some time.  I am still waiting to see if one day my kids will say that we "sacrificed them for the ministry" as many missionary kids say of their parents.  Bob and I worked very hard to not allow that to happen.  That is why we didn't send them to boarding school, but home schooled when there wasn't a better option.  When they went to the public school, I dropped them off and picked them up every day, and was home when they were home so that they would never be "latch-key" kids.  We had regular family meetings.  We told stories around the dinner table.  And every dinner also had high points and low points from the day, shared by adults and kids alike.  When we moved from Liberia to Ghana, we had a family meeting to discuss, before God, what were our "must-haves," our "like-to-have," and our "would be very nice to have" options.  Running water and electricity were not on anyone's "must-have" list but both kids had "a school with friends" on their "must-have" list, which is why Ghana was a good choice for them.  We certainly didn't do everything right, and they can testify to lots of mistakes, but our objective was happy AND well adjusted, contributing members of society. Clearly, taking them outside of their comfort zone was part of that process.

It is fun to have adult conversations with my children and to hear their perspective on their childhood.  Bob and I sometimes wondered whether our call to the mission field was going to be more about them then about us and any work we might accomplish.  Lots of these things are only seen in hindsight, so at age 23 and 21 it still is probably to early to tell.  But I continue to thank God for the privilege of knowing Hannah and Noah and trust their Heavenly Father to meet their needs according to His riches in glory!